'We will always be able to return with our children and our grandchildren.'

Interpretation centre puts focus on Inuit


KANGIQSUJUAQ – When Monica Pinguatuq recently gave Quebec Premier Jean Charest a tour of the new Pingualuit provincial park interpretation centre in French, she wasn't nervous.

For the past year, Pinguatuq, a park technician, had practiced for just that moment. Even before the centre's official Nov. 30 opening, Pinguatuq had guided groups of through the centre, in three languages – French, English or Inuttitut – without missing a beat.

Her tour makes the tiny centre's floor-to-ceiling photos, artifacts and diagrams more manageable. That's not to say there's too much information – there's just a lot to see in a small space.

The Avataq cultural institute painstakingly coordinated the multi-media displays featuring the people, wildlife and land around the Pingualuit crater.

The entrance to the centre opens into a small circular space. In the middle of the floor stands a display case with a small-scale model of the crater, the result of a meteorite that crashed near the present-day community of Kangiqsujuaq 1.4 million years ago.

Perfectly round, the crater, with its pale blue water, looks like a large, unblinking eye.

Photos on the curved wall show an unusual rock formation within the park: a giant boulder supported by tiny rocks, which was left as the glaciers retreated, as well as the mysterious faces carved on the island of Qajartalik near Kangiqsujuaq.

One case displays a stone face removed many years ago by anthropologist Bernard Saladin d'Anglure, along with a pair of exquisite 1,500-year-old stone cooking pots, with delicate, perfectly oval shapes.

Photos of an Inuk hunter (the image shows the late Maasiu Ningiurivik) also provide a visual guide to the exhibit. The hunter and his words follow visitors through the centre to provide the traditional view of an Inummarik, or true Inuk. The guide's character is based on a real person: Noah Makiggaq Ittuapik Nallikaguluk, who was born in 1870.

"We will always be able to return with our children and our grandchildren to this place that is so important to use as a people," he says about the area around the crater, referred to in Inuttitut as Nunavingmi Pikkuminartuq, which for Inuit knew as the breeding grounds for caribou and migratory birds.

The centerpiece of the interpretation centre is a kayak made by Maasiu Ningiuruvik in 1966. The 24-foot, skin-covered kayak sits beneath a plexiglas case with its original paddle. Above, a life size colour photo shows Ningiuruvik hunting beluga from the same kayak in the 1960s.

The kayak, the hunting photo and another photo, which shows a panoramic view of the village, was given to the centre by Saladin d'Anglure, who took many photos and collected masses of material as a young anthropologist in Wakeham Bay.

All around this space, photos of Inuit look down on the room- and they're identified, which is not often the case in southern museums.

If you want to see Qallunaat, you have to peer through ingenious peepholes – seeing them the way Inuit might have through early black and white photos. A 1950 photo, donated by Father Jules Dion, sees a group of stern-looking Catholic missionaries, known by Inuit as Ikajurtialuk, Umikallak, Ijjautilialak, Mirquituq and Kajuapik.

Near the kayak is a life-size photo of the late Mitiarjuk Napaaluk, author and educator, known worldwide as the author of the first Inuttitut novel "Sanaaq" and throughout Nunavik as a Inuit language and culture teacher.

In front, a large and detailed soapstone carving by Mitiarjuk shows women putting a skin on a kayak. For the curious, there are drawers below, filled with books and objects that witness to Mitiarjuk's memorable contribution to Inuit literature and education.

This portion of the centre, say Avataq curator Louis Gagnon and coordinator Sylvie Côté Chew, is intended to put Inuit culture in the forefront so "visitors will get to know the people of Kangiqsujuaq."

The largest space focuses on Pingualuit, "where the land rises," along with the Ungava plateau, its lakes and hills, and the Puvirnituq River canyon.

The parkland is home to lemming, caribou, fox and the occasional muskox, and botanists have found more than 120 different species of vegetation ranging from moss to lichens to miniature willows. Birds like gyrfalcons and loons are common – and visitors can hear their distinctive calls by pressing a button.

The views offered by curved windows, multiplied by mirrors, look out on the village below, to encourage visitors to think about the people and places of today.

Comments in the guest book are enthusiastic. "It's good for the Eskimo soul," reads one note. "I'm at peace seeing old artifacts that were used by our grandparents, " writes another visitor.

Some visitors have sat for a long time on a bench in front of the kayak, visibly moved by the display.

Many more will visit this interpretation centre than the crater, which is 88 kilometres away and relatively difficult to access.

Most visitors from outside the region are expected to link up with tour companies to come in for a few days. They'll pass through Kangiqsujuaq and travel by charter plane in summer to the park shelters at Lac Laflamme, where there is an airstrip, or by snowmobile during the colder months.

Park officials say that 75 visitors during the park's first year will be a good number.

While the park will be a high-end, eco-tourism destination, the interpretation centre is free and easily accessible to anyone passing through Kangiqsujuaq.

Yet the interpretation centre is much a jewel as the crater that lies at the park's centre. Its cost was included in the $5.4 million that Quebec spent on infrastructure for the park, which will be managed by the Kativik Regional Government.

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